Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Detailed History, both Past & Present, of BP's Safety Violations, Spills, Fines, & Corrective Measures

We've gotten sporadic reports of BP's history of safety violations, but ProPublica has put out a new piece that covers the very detailed and egregious history that BP has with safety violations and the deliberate attack on anyone who dares to report those violations.  It is an incredibly good read and should be passed along to everyone you know.

I'll post some excerpts of it to give you an idea on what we are up against in fighting to make BP do what is right in the wake of the damage they are causing to the Gulf, its inhabitants and our country as a whole.

Years of Internal BP Probes Warned That Neglect Could Lead to Accidents

A series of internal investigations over the past decade warned senior BP managers that the company repeatedly disregarded safety and environmental rules and risked a serious accident if it did not change its ways.

Similar themes about BP operations elsewhere were sounded in interviews with former employees, in lawsuits and little-noticed state inquiries, and in e-mails obtained by ProPublica. Taken together, these documents portray a company that systemically ignored its own safety policies across its North American operations - from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico to California and Texas.

2001 report noted that BP had neglected key equipment needed for emergency shutdown, including safety shutoff valves and gas and fire detectors similar to those that could have helped prevent the fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf.
A 2004 inquiry found a pattern of intimidating workers who raised safety or environmental concerns. It said managers were shaving maintenance costs with the practice of "run to failure," under which aging equipment was used as long as possible. Accidents resulted, including the 200,000-gallon Prudhoe Bay pipeline spill in 2006, the largest ever spill on Alaska's North Slope.
During the same period, similar problems surfaced at BP facilities in California and Texas.
In 2002, California officials discovered that BP had falsified inspections of fuel tanks at a Los Angeles-area refinery and that more than 80 percent of the facilities didn't meet requirements to maintain storage tanks without leaks or damage. Inspectors were forced to get a warrant before BP allowed them to check the tanks. The company eventually settled a civil lawsuit brought by the South Coast Air Quality Management District for more than $100 million.
In 2005, an emergency warning system failed before a Texas City refinery exploded in a ball of fire. BP's investigation of that deadly accident -- conducted by a committee of independent experts -- found that "significant process safety issues exist at all five U.S. refineries, not just Texas City." It said "instances of a lack of operating discipline, toleration of serious deviations from safe operating practices, and apparent complacency toward serious process safety risk existed at each refinery." BP spokesman Odone said that after the accident the company adopted a six-point plan to update its safety systems worldwide. But last year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined BP $87 million for failing to make safety upgrades at that same Texas plant.
It is difficult to compare safety records among companies in industries like oil exploration. Some companies drill in harsher environments. And bad luck can play a role. But independent experts say the pervasiveness of BP's problems, in multiple locales and different types of facilities, is striking.
In August 2006, just five months after the spill at Prudhoe Bay, a pipeline safety technician for a BP contractor in Alaska discovered a two-inch snaggle-toothed crack in the steel skin of an oil transit line. Nearby, contractors were grinding down metal welds, sending a fan of sparks shooting across the work site. The technician, Stuart Sneed, feared the sparks could ignite stray gases, or the work could make the crack worse, so he ordered the contractors to stop working.
"Any inspector knows a crack in a service pipe is to be considered dangerous and treated with serious attention," Sneed told ProPublica. "The crack could have created a hellacious leaker with people grinding on it."
But instead of receiving compliments for his prudence, Sneed -- who had also complained that week that pipeline inspectors were faking their reports -- was scolded by his supervisor for stopping the work. According to a report from BP's internal employer arbitrators, Sneed's supervisor, who hadn't inspected the crack himself, said he believed it was superficial.
The next day, according to multiple witness accounts and the report, that supervisor singled out Sneed and harassed him at a morning staff briefing. Within a couple of hours, the supervisor sent emails to colleagues soliciting complaints or safety concerns that would justify Sneed's firing. Two weeks later, after a trumped up safety infraction, he was gone.
During the investigation BP inspectors substantiated Sneed's concerns about the cracked pipe. The arbiter also investigated Sneed's account of what happened when he reported the problem. Not only did the report confirm his account, but it determined that he was among the best at his job.
"They say it's your duty to come forward," said Sneed of BP's corporate policies and public statements, "but then when you do come forward, they screw you. They'll destroy your life."
"No one up there is ever going to say anything if there is something they see is unsafe," he added. "They are not going to say a word."
For years the BP subsidiary that refined and stored crude oil was allowed to inspect its own facilities for compliance with emission laws under the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the agency that regulates air quality in Los Angeles. The thinking was that companies had the technical knowledge and that self-inspection was cheaper and more efficient.
But in 2002, eight years after the program began, inspectors with the management district thought BP's inspection results looked too good to be true. Between 1999 and 2002, BP's Carson Refinery had nearly perfect compliance, reporting no tank problems and making virtually no repairs. The district began to suspect that BP was falsifying its inspection reports and fabricating its compliance with the law.
The management district sent its own inspectors to investigate, but when they tried to enter BP's plant, the company turned them away. According to Joseph Panasiti, a lawyer for the management district, the agency had to get a search warrant to conduct inspections required by state law.
When the regulators did finally get in, they found equipment in a disturbing state of disrepair. According to a lawsuit the management district later filed against the company, inspectors discovered that some tanker seals had tears that were nearly two feet long. Tank roofs had gaps and pervasive leaks, and there were enough major defects to lead to thousands of violations.
"They had been sending us reports that showed 99 percent compliance, and we found about 80 percent noncompliance," Panasiti told ProPublica. "It was clear that no matter what was said, production was put ahead of any kind of environmental compliance."
Final design drawings, called "as-built" drawings, are considered an essential safety component. They prove that a piece of equipment -- say a shutoff valve or an engine winch -- was built the way it was supposed to be. Those drawings are thus the final checks to make sure the equipment operates properly. They also serve as instruction manuals for emergencies. If there is a fire on deck or a blowout, for example, operators under extreme stress and danger can use the design drawings to find the hidden kill lever that can shut an engine down before it explodes.
Abbott told ProPublica that as-built documents had been issued for only 274 of more than 7,100 pieces of equipment, the equivalent of constructing a house without having an architect or engineer sign off on the blueprint.
ProPublica Report on the Extensive History behind BP's Deliberate & Willfully Egregious Safety Violations

With the reporting we have seen on how deeply ingrained the safety violations are within the entire BP company is, on every level, it is surprising to me that they have been allowed to continue to operate.  It also shows that simply fining this company means absolutely nothing to them and they see these fines as simply the cost of doing business, rather than an attempt to get them to follow the rules and regulations set in place.

We also know that just recently.    How recently?  Tuesday, May 25, 2010.  Yes just 2 weeks ago.  This spill didn't get any real publicity due to the ongoing spill in the Gulf but it happened, and no doubt will continue to happen as long as BP is allowed to operate, as they have proven time and time again that safety is low on the list of priorities for them in scheme of things.

Oil spill shuts down Alaska pipeline

A power failure at a pump station along the trans-Alaska pipeline caused up to several thousand barrels of crude to spill into a containment area Tuesday morning. The station, which has failed before during maintenance operations, is located near Delta Junction, about a hundred miles south of Fairbanks.
The trans-Alaska pipeline is operated by Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., a consortium of five oil companies. BP, which is currently dealing with a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, owns a majority interest of 47 percent.

Alaska Dispatch Report

The 'other' spill BP will be keeping quiet

Few in the US know that BP owns the controlling stake in the transalaska pipeline. Unlike with the Deepwater Horizon rig, BP keeps its name off the big pipe.
There's another reason for the company to keep its name off the pipe - its management of it stinks. The pipe is corroded, undermanned and "basic maintenance" is a term BP has never heard of.
How does BP get away with it? The same way the Godfather got away with it, bad things happen to folks who blow the whistle. BP has a habit of hunting down and destroying the careers of those who warn of pipeline problems.
In one case, BP's CEO of Alaskan operations hired a former CIA expert to break into the home of whistleblower Chuck Hamel, who had complained of conditions at the pipe's tanker facility.
BP tapped his phone calls with a US congressman and ran a surveillance and smear campaign against him. When caught, a US federal judge said BP's acts were "reminiscent of nazi Germany."
This was not an isolated case. Captain James Woodle, once in charge of the pipe's Valdez terminus, was blackmailed into resigning from the post when he complained of disastrous conditions there. The weapon used on Woodle was a file of faked evidence of marital infidelity. Nice guys, eh?
With the Gulf Coast dying of oil poisoning, there's no space in the press for British Petroleum's most recent spill
(H/T Regina @ Palingates for this link)

BP's Cost Benefit Analysis 
The Daily Beast has obtained a document—displayed below—that goes to the heart of BP procedures, demonstrating that before the company’s previous major disaster—at a moment when the oil giant could choose between cost-savings and greater safety—it selected cost-savings. And BP chose to illustrate that choice, without irony, by invoking the classic Three Little Pigs fairy tale.

The BP spokesman, Scott Dean, tells The Daily Beast: “Those documents are several years old,” and that since then, “we have invested $1 billion into upgrading that refinery and continue to improve our safety worldwide.”

The Daily Beast Uncovers Shocking Memo re: BP's Cost Saving Analysis

So BP spokesperson Scott Dean states that they "continue to improve our safety worldwide", yet as we've seen from the ProPublica article that is just not true.  Perhaps in other parts of the world they have tried to improve safety but certainly not here and in fact they, along with others in the Oil & Gas Industry are working very hard to ensure that regulations do not get tougher for them, and are willing to spend a lot of money to see that come to fruition.

Oil Companies Weigh Strategies to Fend Off Tougher Regulations

The oil and gas industry is a formidable presence in Washington. It spent more on federal lobbying last year than all but two other industries, with $174.8 million in lobbying expenditures, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.
Political action committees set up by the oil and gas producers contributed an additional $9 million last election cycle to Congressional candidates, with Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Valero Energy and Chevron leading the way, the data showed. (BP ranked 19th, with $75,500 in contributions, most to Republicans.)

Oil & Gas Industry will Spend Millions To Help Them Fight Tougher Regulations

NASA has been keeping track of the spill and has some pretty amazing pictures of the spill and how it is spreading.  They do have an "Oil Spill Page" which you can visit and see some of the unique and varied images they offer.

This is but one example of the pictures that they have:

Ribbons and patches of oil that have leaked from the Deepwater Horizon well offshore appear silver against the light blue color of the adjacent water. Vegetation is red.

It can seem overwhelming taking in all this information, and I know first hand how distressing it can be to think of this stuff day in and day out, but we have to stay informed, we have to know what we are facing, both in terms of the damage that is happening now, and the damage we can expect to see in the future from the effects of this spill, but we also need to know and understand why & how this happened as well as what we can to to prevent this from happening again.  We will never make the Oil & Gas industry 100% safe, but we can make it safer, we can force them to follow tougher regulations, we can work towards ending our own oil addiction that has allowed these companies to get to this point of power and control over us and our environment, and we can change how we think about allowing our politicians to fight for these companies over what is best for this country as a whole.

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